Market Monday: "S" is for...
This week, one letter seemed to be at the center of almost every major story in the industry...
"S" is for "Sotheby's": News broke Thursday that Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art, will leave the auction house next month. The move adds her name to a list of recently departed senior staff whose length is beginning to rival the end credits of the last Star Wars movie. At this point, it's difficult to view the new Sotheby's as anything other than a classic private equity-style teardown-and-rebuild project. The decision-makers are clearly banking on the idea that the house's brand is stronger than almost any individual it employed. But unless they can replace at least some of the departed veterans with high-value hires, there's a point at which the relationship-oriented nature of the art industry could make this Wall Street-approved strategy self-destruct. [The Art Newspaper]
"S" is for "San Francisco": The organizers of Miami's Untitled Art Fair announced that they will expand their brand via a San Francisco edition of the trade show, scheduled to debut in the city's Pier 70 complex in January 2017. Considering that Reed Exhibitions just shuttered two fairs in Los Angeles because the local collector base (allegedly) fell far short of its buzzy reputation, I'll be very curious to see what the reception is like in the Bay area––a region whose big-time art-market viability remains mostly theoretical at this stage. Along with the absence of a concurrent Basel-like fair to draft off of, I suspect the uncertainty plays a pivotal role in Untitled's decision to cap the number of SF exhibitors at 40-60, whereas the 2015 Miami edition included 127. No matter what the actual reasons, though, it's a smart hedge. [Blouin ArtInfo]
"S" is for "San Francisco," The Sequel: George Philip Lebourdais walked through a series of home-grown highlights in the city's contemporary art scene. Despite justifying some optimism about diversity in the Golden Gate market, the piece also inadvertently speaks to the central tension ratcheting up there. As Lebourdais implies, what the city arguably needs most are sustained and substantive art enterprises, some of which will likely thrive on a less glamorous nonprofit patronage model. But the typhoon of high-end galleries now crashing in from out of town will be trying to absorb the same funds via wave after wave of blue-chip sales. Theoretically, there's more than enough money in the Bay area to satisfy the nonprofit and for-profit sectors equally. Will the local patrons see it that way, though? Or will the high-end market drown out the smaller institutions and experimental spaces? Only time will tell... [Artsy]
"S" is for "Synergy": At the end of February, Google and the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (no relation) co-hosted an exhibition and auction of works created using Deep Dream, the tech titan's image-generating artificial intelligence. While some of the pieces on view were entirely created through the A.I.––prompting a few predictable, apocalyptic headlines about software's potential to replace flesh-and-blood artists––others were the result of man-machine collaborations. As Alex Rayner reported this week, an entry from this hybrid group actually earned the highest auction price of the night ($8,000). To me, that result and the general rhetoric from participants both quietly reinforce that the future's most compelling and valuable creative innovations will be synergies between human and artificial intelligence. Economist Tyler Cowen argued exactly that point about the larger economy in his excellent 2014 book Average Is Over, and longtime Gray Market readers may recall that his thoughts sparked a long (and now, somewhat outdated) series of blog posts from yours truly that same year––posts I'll have much, much more to say about in the coming weeks. [The Guardian]
"S" is for "Size Matters": Finally this week, The Art Newspaper released its annual findings on worldwide art-museum attendance. While you can find links to all the different facets of the issue here, I'll just highlight the point that stuck out most to me: In terms of average year-on-year admissions, institutions that architecturally expanded between 2007-2014 meaningfully outpaced those that did not. The difference of about four percent equates to tens of thousands of visitors per year. As Julia Halperin notes in her analysis, museums expand for all kinds of legitimate reasons beyond trying to juice attendance numbers. (Friendly reminder: Admission fees only account for roughly two to four percent of U.S. institutions' annual revenue outside the tourist triangle of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.) But the next time you wonder why a perfectly good museum wants to become a physically larger one, remember that the reasoning partially mirrors why Hollywood keeps churning out VFX-bloated comic-book spectacles: People keep paying to see the damn things. [The Art Newspaper]
That's all for this edition. Til next time, be true to this week's theme by staying sharp, strong, and soulful.